It all started when Polly Stephens visited an assisted living home and realized how much the residents enjoyed the music that was presented that day. She went straight over to Virginia Hegre, her neighbor, who shared her enthusiasm and agreed to accompany the group that became the Geneva Belles.
Since organizing, the Geneva Belles has grown to 17 members, including those who have asked to belong, and some who are not neighbors at all. Five of the six charter members are still part of the group. Charter members include both Polly and Virginia, along with Dot Bubendorf, Daisy Stahlberg and Joan Huseth. Explained Dot, “A lot of us are just friends who can’t wait to sing,” adding, “We wouldn’t be a group unless we had a good pianist. Virginia, yes, thank goodness we have Virginia and Glenda Seela (who also plays piano). They make us sound good. We all have a lot of respect for each other too, that is really important.”
The Geneva Belles have given performances in and around the Alexandria area, including Edgewood Vista, Alexandria Senior Center, Diamond Willow, Windmill Ponds, Peaceful Bliss, Prairie Cottages, Grand Arbor, Knute Nelson, Nelson Gables, Bethany and Bethel Manor, and most recently at the Village Cooperative. “It’s almost like we are becoming pretty well known,” smiled Dot.
The Geneva Belles focus mostly on music from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s,” explained Joan Huseth. “It’s wonderful to hear the residents sing the lyrics when they know the song. We sing the good old tunes they remember and want to hear. It brings such joy to hear them sing. Sometimes we take requests too.” The Belles average two to three performances each month throughout the year, however, take the summer months “off.” They all agree that the Christmas season is the busiest.
Daisy chimed in, “The best part is being together, all of us singing, and then visiting the people when we are done singing. I love to see the satisfaction and joy we bring to those who might not be able to get out and about.”
The Geneva Belles is a music-ministry group and the women who comprise the group, believe THEY benefit more than the residents for whom they sing. By the looks on the faces of residents at Nelson Gables recently, it would be hard to decide who benefits the most. It’s obvious there is joy in the room from this two-part (sometimes three-part) harmony group. “Our only request is a cup of coffee and a cookie after singing, which gives us a chance to visit with the residents,” smiled Polly.
Pianists Virginia Hegre and Glenda Seela, who are both retired music teachers, spent endless hours in the classrooms of children and young students, and now, along with their friends in the Geneva Belles, love the friendships that have grown through the common bond of music. Many members have lived in Alexandria all of their lives, some have returned for retirement, and some are brand new to the area. Including the charter members already named, and the pianists, group members include Jan Aden, Jo Bjerknes, Arlou Capouch, Bev Dokken, Betty Ebsen, Jane Lamca, Sara Lundberg, LaDean Moen, Louise Revering, Mary Robinson and Lisa Van Hout. Arlou also does the group’s scheduling.
The Geneva Belles have a song list for just about every occasion and all the seasons of the year. “We do a fall series; we have a military-themed program for November. We have sung for Memorial Day. We have sung at birthday parties. Christmas, of course, is big. We have an Easter performance. Of course, we love to dress up for all the seasons and occasions,” explained the chorus of ladies. “Remember when we did the Western theme? We need to do that one again,” chimed in Dot, adding, “I love the song ‘I want to be a cowboy sweetheart….”
“We had cowboy hats and bandannas,” laughed Polly. It’s evident these ladies love to sing and bring happiness to everyone they touch through song.
“We get really wild for Halloween,” echoed Daisy. “Watch out, that’s when we really get crazy.” Added Heather, the activities director at Nelson Gables, “You should see their Easter bonnets. These ladies really know how to put on a show. The residents love them.”
Yes, the Geneva Belles are ready and prepared to bring joy to the world.
What about practice — do these friends and neighbors need to practice anymore? “You might say we have seasonal practices,” smiled Polly. “We strive for progress, not perfection,” she laughed. “We will rehearse as we begin preparing for a new season and for theme-based performances. In the past we took turns hosting rehearsals in our homes. That is about to change now since we have been invited to rehearse at Nelson Gables or in the activity room of Knute Nelson.”
Through their music-ministry the Geneva Belles keep memories vibrant, dreams alive and smiles abundant. When asked for a song lyric that would best describe the Geneva Belles, Joan quoted one song, “May you always be a dreamer…may your wildest dream come true.” Another song, When You’re Smilin’ has become their signature closing piece for each performance. Yes, the Geneva Belles definitely keep people smiling.